Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife recently launched an anti-rhino poaching trial in the Tembe Elephant Park and Ndumo Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, in which it infused rhino horns with poison. The trial, funded by the Peace Park Foundation, has been successful so far.
Musa Mntambo, Ezemvelo Communications Manager, said: “It is very early to start measuring or assessing progress, but Ezemvelo and our partners are satisfied that the infusion of rhino went well, and the community awareness of the project has also gone very well. We are presently monitoring the situation closely.”
Lorinda A Hern of the Rhino Rescue Project added that the trial had made the animals' welfare first priority. She reported that all of the treated animals were in perfect health, and none had fallen victim to poaching to date.
Although not fatal, the toxin injected into the rhino horn can have a serious impact on a person’s health if consumed. Hern explained: “As with all toxins, symptoms are dosage dependent. Consumed in small quantities, the toxins may induce vomiting, severe headaches and nausea, and nervous symptoms in more severe cases.”
A Durban environmental lawyer has questioned the ethical and legal implications of poisoning a product that could be used for human consumption, regardless of whether the consumption is illegal. “As much as I would like to see a more aggressive approach to poaching, the use of poison as a deterrent to poaching is akin to the use of chemical weapons in war,” he was quoted in local newspapers.
According to Hern, legal opinions on the methodology were obtained before commencing the trial. She said: “All of the opinions we obtained emphasised the importance of combining horn infusions with educational campaigns or other reasonable means of informing end users or poachers that infused horns are no longer fit for human consumption. To this end, we provide the properties [on which the treated rhinos are located] with several hundred warning signs to place at points of entry and exit as well as on perimeter fences. The signs communicate in five languages, including Mandarin, that horns are toxic and unfit for human consumption.”
Neither Hern nor Mntambo see the use of poison as a long-term solution. Mntambo says: “Ezemvelo is undertaking this infusion with an understanding that all other law enforcement, awareness and education programmes will continue as it is very unlikely that there will be a single solution to this very complex problem.”
Hern added: “We see horn devaluation in any form as an interim measure to buy our animals time while a more sustainable long-term strategy is sought. It is not a permanent solution, as it grows out with the animal’s horn over time.” She further explains the drawback with this kind of procedure is that there are always risks involved when an animal has to be immobilised for whatever reason.